Securing Canada's sanitization needs for COVID-19 and beyond

- Ottawa, Ontario

Since the onset of COVID-19, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has been working diligently with partners across government, academia and industry to support the development of innovative solutions to meet critical pandemic needs and protect the health and safety of Canadians. Among these efforts, was the creation of a "Sanitization" Subject Expert Team (SET), led by the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), to address Canada's immediate need for the production of disinfectants.

Addressing early shortages

Early in the pandemic, there was a large surge in global demand for hand sanitizer which sparked supply chain shortages for raw ingredients. In particular, Canadian companies were having difficulty sourcing the alcohol necessary for production. At the time, NRC IRAP's Sanitization SET, made up of Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs) across Canada, worked with companies to develop contingency plans and navigate the process to obtain permits to manufacture hand sanitizers and to use food grade alcohol based on new interim measures put in place by the Government.

Sourcing gelling agents

A new challenge quickly followed on the heels of alcohol shortages – difficulty sourcing rheological agents, key gelling ingredients used in the production of hand sanitizers. Again, NRC IRAP's Sanitization SET worked quickly with Canadian companies to address the challenge. The team developed a backup plan for companies to use simpler alternative hand sanitizer formulations, using ingredients more readily available within Canada, and register them early with Health Canada. By having registered formulations on stand-by, companies can ensure less disruption to their production in the event of further supply chain shortages or emergencies. In addition to contingency planning, the Sanitization SET also provided companies with guidance on health and safety protocols, linking them to expertise on the safe handling of ingredients and the establishment of proper production installations - a service of particular value to first-time hand sanitizer producers.

Collaborative solutions

In a collaborative effort to find solutions to existing and potential supply chain shortages, Health Canada put together the Hand-Sanitizer Manufacturing Exchange committee in partnership with other government agencies and specialized industry associations. Members of the NRC IRAP Sanitization SET, joined the committee to share the alternative formulations strategy and stay informed on Canadian regulatory requirements and adjustments.

To further alleviate the effects of gelling agent shortages, Catherine de Varennes, leader of the Sanitization SET, and her team collaborated with partners to develop a list of alternative rheology modifiers. The list was co-developed working in consultation with Dr. Ripoll, a professor of Cosmetology at the University of  Québec at Chicoutimi (UQAC) and President of the Quebec Chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. In addition, Health Canada played a significant role in verifying each ingredient on the list.

The rheology modifiers list has enabled a large number of Canadian firms to overcome or avoid supply shortages and continue to deliver much-needed sanitizer to hospitals and major retail chains across Canada. It is now a well-known reference published on Health Canada's website and has been officially recognized by various industry associations in Canada. The list has also garnered interest from several companies in Europe.

Making an impact

Canada's collaborative efforts to produce hand sanitizer, in addition to disinfectants, have not gone unnoticed. Responsible Distribution Canada (RDC), a non-profit trade association for the distribution sector of the Canadian chemical industry, officially recognized the contributions of NRC IRAP and its partners for their collaborative efforts to address sanitizer and disinfectant shortages.

To date, the NRC IRAP Sanitization SET has provided coaching and technical and logistical expertise to over 85 Canadian companies to help them produce hand sanitizer and hard-surface disinfectants to help keep Canadians safe throughout the pandemic. The team also coached companies through the process of registering new sanitizer formulas with Health Canada and navigating the necessary regulatory, health and safety environments. In collaboration with Health Canada, the team also organized a question and answer session that brought together 170 industry participants to help accelerate the licensing of sanitizers.

Future ready

To ensure that Canadian disinfectant producers can continue to deliver safe and reliable products during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the NRC is leading a new initiative to mitigate future supply chain challenges.

Working in collaboration with partners across government and industry, the NRC has developed 3 alternative formulations to produce hard-surface disinfectants. The formulations use ingredients that are more readily available from domestic supply chains and are being made accessible, free of charge, to qualified Canadian producers.

The NRC's Alternative Hard-Surface Disinfectant Formulas for Canadians (ASDFC) have been designed for scaled production. Each formula has undergone efficacy and stability testing and has been reviewed by Health Canada to provide Canadian producers with a streamlined and expedited approach to register and manufacture new hard-surface disinfectants.

Whether responding to immediate needs or contingency planning, the NRC and its IRAP Sanitization SET have played a leading role in bringing together the right players and domestic capabilities to secure Canada's future emergency preparedness.

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